Gary Johnson proved that a successful businessman — indeed, a capitalist — can be elected governor of a state that leans blue. He recently brought his libertarian-leaning views to the Gulf Coast.
Individual. Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico
Key. Johnson is traveling across the country to speak to groups and organizations about the Our America Initiative.
Gary Johnson, who built a door-to-door handyman company he started in college into a multi-million dollar business, showed up at a Republican Party meeting outside Albuquerque, N.M. in the early 1990s with a strange idea.
He was going to run for governor of the state, he told the assembled party elders. The majority of the people in the room dismissed Johnson through not-so-subtle chuckles, he recalls.
First off, the Republicans reminded him, the state leaned 2-to-1 Democratic. And then they pointed out the obvious: Johnson was a political novice, having run a business since 1976.
But Johnson nonetheless pulled of a political upset in 1994 when he defeated incumbent Democratic Gov. Bruce King by a 10% margin. “What I told people,” says Johnson, “was everything I would do would be on a cost-benefit analysis.”
Johnson ran on that theory again in 1998 and that time he had four years of success to back it up. Indeed, Johnson was reelected, again by a 10% margin.
Johnson, who has said he is considering a presidential run in 2012, now embraces a new cause: The Our America Initiative, a libertarian-leaning political organization that supports what it calls “good government” policies. Johnson, the honorary chairman, is traveling across the country to speak to groups and organizations about his and the group's beliefs on a range of issues.
Some of those beliefs include:
• An end to the 'War on Drugs' and support for the decriminalization of drug use. Johnson would instead like to see drug use and abuse treated as a health care issue, not a criminal justice problem;
• Pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Johnson says he believes in national defense, but he doesn't think the country's national security is threatened by Iraq and Afghanistan.
Johnson spoke with the Review in early August, before he gave a speech to the Sarasota County Young Republicans. Here's an edited transcript of the conversation.
What did you learn from your business career that you brought to politics?
I've been an entrepreneur my whole life. I started a construction company in Albuquerque in 1974 as a one-person handyman business — me.
By 1994 I had 1,000 employees. It was the American dream come true and it was based on the simplest of concepts: Show up on time, work hard and do a little bit more than what I said I would do for people. I sold the business in 1999 and nobody lost their job.
I learned everything [from that experience.] I learned what it is to make a payroll. I learned how to keep up with the growth of my company without being able to get adequate financing. I just went through the hardest of times, which I don't suppose are unique to anyone in small business.
You have written and spoken about how governments can hurt businesses. Did you hone that philosophy that specifically while running your company, Big J Enterprises?
In the case of the construction business, there is so much regulation that doesn't really have to exist at all. You are licensed, insured and bonded. So in that context you are not going to run away from a job, so when it comes to inspections in general coming from the city or the state, they have no labiality for the inspections at all. But you're stuck with the liability yourself, [so] the need for the government at all really is a question mark.
The consumer doesn't have any more of a recourse because the government has been involved. The customer's recourse is with you.
Have you followed the campaign for U.S. Senate in Florida, including Gov. Charlie Crist's defection from the Republican Party? Who do you support in the race?
It is hard to understand Florida politics from Albuquerque, but you seem to read about Marco Rubio and Charlie Crist everywhere you go.
Marco sounds very bright. And when I read about Charlie Crist's veto of the school teacher tenure bill, I thought, “wow.” That's just something that is completely reverse of what I think. [Supporting] that issue is just totally Republican, free markets and good business, which is everything I'm about.
I tried to read and understand Crist's reason for the veto, but it really didn't resonate with me. The bill could have led the nation when it came to educational reform that is needed.
You have been outspoken on the Federal Reserve, saying it deserves to be held responsible for the housing bubble. What are your specific issues with the Fed and what can be done about it?
I believe the Federal Reserve should be transparent and it should return to its original role of pricing stability.
[Chairman Ben] Bernanke recently talked about the tools in his basket and the next day in the Wall Street Journal the Fed says it will now start buying bonds.
So why are the banks going to loan money when they can wait for the Federal Reserve to unload bonds and not do any work and pick up that spread?
What's next week? Are we all going to get a rebate check so we can spend the money in Europe?
The federal health care bill is also an issue you have written and spoken about several times in the past few months. What can be done to bring about real health care reform?
I completely oppose the bill. I would really look at free market solutions when it comes to health care. And the current health care system in this country is about as far away from the free market as we can get. It's the most regulated industry that exists.
So for the government to take on health care reform, in my opinion, it has to eliminate impediments for health care entrepreneurs who have a better product and a better service at a lower price.
One of your biggest claims to fame in your two terms as governor of New Mexico was your 750 vetoes, in addition to more than 1,000 line-item vetoes over potential spending increases. Do you have a favorite veto?
There are a lot of them that stuck out. But it was really about the whole notion of looking at legislation from the standpoint of it being an advantage for anyone as opposed to some specific individuals or groups or corporations.
I think people saw [the vetoes] as good stewardship of tax dollars. And more than anything, that's what it's about.
You have identified yourself with Libertarian Party principles on several occasions. You also supported libertarian standard-bearer and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, in his 2008 presidential campaign. Do you have a favorite passage from “Atlas Shrugged?”
[Laughs.] “Fountainhead” is probably my favorite Ayn Rand book.
But I'm engaged to this wonderful woman. And at the onset of when we got together she read “Atlas Shrugged,” as kind of an 'I know this is what you're about.' And I just find so much enjoyment in the fact that today, almost on a regular basis, she will see something in the newspaper and say, 'hey, this is right out of “Atlas Shrugged.'”
Gary Johnson, former two-term governor of New Mexico, recently wrote a book, “Seven Principles of Good Government.” The principles form the basis of Johnson's work with the Our America Initiative he founded last year.
The principles are:
• Become reality driven. Don't kid yourself or others. Find out what's what and base your decisions and actions on that.
• Always be honest and tell the truth. It's difficult to do damage when you are willing to tell the truth — regardless of the consequences.
• Always do what's right and fair. The more you actually accomplish, the louder your critics become. You've got to learn to ignore your critics. You've got to maintain your integrity.
• Determine your goal, develop a plan to reach that goal and then act. Don't procrastinate.
• Make sure everybody who ought to know what you're doing knows what you're doing.
• Don't hesitate to deliver bad news. There is always time to salvage or fix things. Anything that can be revealed eventually should be revealed immediately.
• Be willing to do whatever it takes to get your job done. If you've got a job that you don't love enough to do what it takes to get your job done, then quit and get one that you do love, and then make a difference.